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Land Use / Master Use - State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA)

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What Is It?

The State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) is legislation that allows local governments to identify and mitigate possible environmental impacts of certain projects.

You may need a SEPA review if your project involves:

Our SEPA review is generally intended to cover impacts that are not mitigated by existing codes and requirements such as Design Review and the Environmentally Critical Areas, Grading, Land Use, and Noise codes.

When other codes are not sufficient or there are no codes to mitigate impacts, we can use SEPA to place limits on the development permit. For example, we may limit your construction hours if there are residents nearby that would suffer from weekend construction noise.

When completing SEPA review we will make a determination of significance or determination of non-significance based on the proposed impacts of your development. A determination of non-significance means your project may have impacts, but those impacts may be mitigated by conditions we placed on the project. If a project has received a determination of significance, then SEPA review will be completed through an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The EIS review process requires a number of additional process steps and review requirements.

Types of SEPA Review

If you have a large development, we will review SEPA policies to identify the project impacts to people and the environment. Many large developments may also require Design Review. SEPA policy may address impacts such as:

  • Height, bulk, and scale
  • Parking and traffic
  • Historic landmarks
  • Drainage

Government agency or City department proposals may conduct their own SEPA review. In those cases our role is to apply Seattle SEPA policies to see if additional conditions are needed based on the impacts that were identified. This could occur with the Master Use Permit (MUP) or with the building permit, depending on whether we require other MUP approvals.

How Much Does It Cost?

We charge an hourly review fee based on our Fee Subtitle. You need to pay a minimum fee when you submit your land use application. After we accept your application, we will send you a monthly invoice for all review time completed in that billing cycle. If you do not pay your invoice, we will stop reviewing your project. 

How Long Does It Take?

How long it takes us to complete our review of your proposal depends on several factors, including the:

  • Complexity of your proposal
  • Whether environmental impact statement is required
  • Quality of your plans and project documentation
  • Timely response to correction letters and requests for further information
  • Public interest

Steps to Get Your Permit


1. Research

Find your property information. Research your site to help you plan your project.

Determine restrictions to your project. Research the Seattle Municipal Code (SMC) to determine standards that will apply to your proposal.

Attend a coaching session. We offer 20 minutes of free coaching in the Applicant Services Center to answer drainage, land use, geotechnical, or construction permit questions. If you need a longer coaching session, we offer paid one-hour sessions.

2. Start Permit Application

Apply for a project number. Get a project number by starting your preliminary application online through your Project Portal. You will need to upload a site plan and a complete legal description for your site. You'll receive an email once we have added the pre-application site visit (PASV) fees to your project. (Most projects require a PASV.) After you have paid the fee, we will preform the inspection. Your preliminary application materials will be sent to other departments for their review and comment as part of this process.

Review your preliminary application report. You will receive a preliminary application report that will include critical information about whether you need Design Review, SEPA, or street improvements. Our report will include information from the utilities about your specific site and proposal. Our report will also identify potential project stoppers.

Request a pre-submittal conference. We recommend pre-submittal conferences for very complex projects, including work in environmentally critical areas or shorelines. One-hour pre-submittal conference fees vary based on the type of conference you need and the number of Seattle DCI staff attending.

Apply for exemptions. You may be eligible for exemptions from code or permitting requirements if your project is located in an environmentally critical area or near the shoreline.You need to apply for and resolve any exemption requests during the preliminary application process.

Coordinate with other agencies. You may need permits or approvals from other agencies. These are the most common agencies you may need to work with for your permit type:

Prepare your plans and technical documents. Your plans should be to scale. You may need to upload technical documents including a survey, geotechnical and wetland reports, and other types of reports. Our Tips and code standards provide additional detail on the type of plans and reports we require to review your proposal.

3. Submit Plans

Schedule an intake appointment. Schedule an electronic intake appointment through your Project Portal. You must upload all application documents well in advance of your appointment. We may contact you for more information during your appointment time.

Pay fees. You must pay a minimum fee for your review, any accrued land use hourly fees, and noticing fees at intake. You will receive an email once we have added fees to your project. You must pay your fees before any public notice or reviews can occur. We will invoice you monthly for additional fees during the review process. We will stop reviewing your project if you do not pay your monthly invoice.

Wait for public notice. We will issue a public notice for your project as required by SMC 23.76.012. If required, you are responsible for building and installing a large environmental public notice sign. (This sign must remain in place until the end of the appeal period or the Hearing Examiner decision, if applicable.) Once you've installed the sign, let us know and we'll begin our public notice process.

We'll consider all public comments we receive during the 2 - 4 week public comment period.

Make corrections and resubmit your plans. Once all of our reviews are done, you will receive an email telling you that corrected and/or additional documents can be uploaded into your portal. Your project may require multiple correction rounds before our reviews are complete.

Pay outstanding fees. Once our review is complete, you will get an email for any outstanding fees. You must pay these fees before we publish our decision.

Read our decision. We will publish our decision on your project in our Land Use Information Bulletin. We will also send a notice of our decision to you and everybody that submitted a public comment on your project. Our decision will include any required conditions of approval, some that you must meet before we issue your permit.

Submit an appeal. If you or a member of the public disagree with our decision, you may file an appeal with the Seattle Hearing Examiner within 14 days from when we publish our decision.

Note the expiration date. The expiration date of your permit is based on the date of the end of the appeal or the City Hearing Examiner decision. Your permit may expire without having a permit issued.

4. Get Permit

Pay final fees. We will notify you if you need to pay any final fees before we issue your permit.

Print your permit. We will notify you when we have issued your permit and the documents are available in our electronic document library.

5. Apply for Construction Permit

You may apply for a construction permit at any time once you submit a land use application. However, the project can change and evolve through the land use application review process. Corrections required by our decision may require building plan changes that can result in costly design changes.

What Do You Want To Do?

Still Need Help?

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  • Schedule a coaching session: (206) 684-8850